Frontline Performance

Companies in the airline sector or hospitality sector are in constant direct contact with their customers. It is necassary in order for them to do their jobs. However, customer focus does not translate into actions and appropriate behaviour among these teams, unless this culture is clearly spelt out for them and becomes ingrained in their work approach. The following example pertains to British Airways and portrays the positive effect that an organisation-wide value system can have on the work approach and performance of frontline teams:

In 1983, Colin Marshall was appointed chief executive of British Airways (BA). He set in motion a program called ‘Putting People First’ and initiated training programs around this theme. The program focused on BA’s fundamental values of service orientation. It proved to be immensely successful in communicating BA’s culture since it brought about a major change in the way the frontline staff viewed customer service. The marked change in the approach to customer service generated a lot of goodwill among customers and by 1987 the company was on a growth track and expanded its fleet and international network.

Despite this change in the organisation culture and the strong service values, in the early 1990’s BA found that they still had to iron out some aspects of their functioning, in particular complaint’s handling. Response to complaints was slow and not in line with the customer oriented culture favoured by BA. So, in 1994 British Airways decided to implement a paperless computerised system for rapid response in complaint handling called CARESS which stands for Customer Analysis and Retention system. They simultaneously introduced empowerment in the complaints handling unit and trained them on being polite, responding sympathetically to complaints, and to look for ways to resolve a complaint.

Prior to this, the process of handling complaints took weeks at a time and there was a lackadaisical approach. The new system changed all that. The company realised the importance of prompt responses to complaints for customer retention. The complaints handling unit had a new mission that corresponded with the customer service values of BA. In the new scheme of things, the complaints handling unit no longer put complaints on the back burner. Their attitude and behaviour towards complaints underwent a noticeable change and this rubbed off favourably on the company’s image and performance. Customer satisfaction indicators showed significant improvement and customer retention improved. It also had a big impact on the morale of the customer relations staff.


Organisation values created one level of change within BA during the 1980’s. The next level of change was made possible during the 1990’s by the mission significance of customer retention and rapid response to customer problems. This new approach further served to cement the organisation-wide culture of customer service. The end result? The changes had a positive impact on BA’s image and business performance.

To read more about this case click to this article: The Support Structure of Empowered Teams

Reference Harvard Business School Case Study titled British Airways: ‘Using Information Systems to Better Serve the Customer’ by Norman Klein and Professor W. Earl Sasser (1994)

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